Toulon turn Henson's expected departure into a long goodbye

Reports of Welsh centre's sacking prove premature and club may use possible World Cup involvement as pretext to release him
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The Independent Online

If Gavin Henson has played his last game of rugby in the south of France – and there are very few aficionados of the sport in those parts who think he has a snowball's chance in Hades of hanging on to his place in the Mediterranean sun – it is a long, drawn-out and confusing demise. Toulon, the club he joined in February after a brief and unhappy flirtation with Saracens, yesterday refused to confirm local reports that he had been sacked as a result of his latest indiscretion: a late-night argument with team-mates that quickly turned violent and went public almost as fast.

Mourad Boudjellal, the Toulon owner, held talks with the 29-year-old Welshman on Monday, and it was widely anticipated that he would signal the celebrity centre's departure without further ado. That did not prove to be the case. Tom Whitford, the team manager, said there might not be any official word on Henson's position until tomorrow.

While most French rugby insiders insist Henson's 157-minute playing career at Stade Félix Mayol will never reach the 158-minute mark, there is some debate as to whether he will be formally sacked, or merely declared surplus to requirements. He was signed on a short-term basis under domestic rules allowing for injury replacements in the Top 14 tournament, and if Boudjellal really has had enough of the palaver surrounding the man's every move, he could easily sweeten the pill by saying that a possible recall to the Wales squad for the forthcoming World Cup makes him less attractive as a long-term investment.

Indeed, the Toulon coach, Philippe Saint-André, had raised this issue a few hours before Henson fell out with his colleagues in a bar in Hyères. "The problem is, he will be picked for the World Cup," said Saint-André, who will lose Jonny Wilkinson to England and will not see the newly-signed Wallaby midfielder Matt Giteau until November. "We have nine games during that period and it would be very difficult to have Gavin away. I will have to speak to him and his agent."

Whatever happens over the next 24 hours, Henson will certainly find himself speaking to Warren Gatland and Roger Lewis, respectively the Wales coach and the chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union. The two men have "requested" a meeting with the prodigal centre, presumably to discuss recent events and gauge his state of mind ahead of World Cup selection. Some in the principality would advise Gatland against picking him, or even touching him with a bargepole, but the coach is an admirer of Henson's rugby gifts and believes he would add to Red Dragon strength ahead of the global gathering if he could just get his head together.

Gatland and Lewis also want a quiet chat with another member of the awkward squad, Andrew Powell. Like Henson, the No 8 has been suspended by his club – Wasps, in this case – after an incident in a bar; like Henson, the player is at risk of being shown the door by officials who consider him more trouble than he is worth. Powell suffered head injuries during a brawl with football supporters in West London a little over a week ago, and is currently the subject of an internal inquiry. Unless he can convince Gatland of his readiness for the demands of a World Cup campaign, he will find himself marked "not wanted on voyage".

There was a fair bit of activity at Wasps yesterday, one way or another. The Londoners confirmed that Leon Holden, brought in as caretaker coach after the sacking of Tony Hanks in February, will leave the club after the final match of the Premiership season at Exeter a week on Saturday. Also heading for the exit are Ben Jacobs, the centre, and Serge Betsen, the grand old flanker from France, nicknamed "the Grim Reaper" on account of his deadly tackling. At the same time, the former European champions were linked with a bid for the veteran World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson, currently playing at relegation-haunted Leeds.

Holden is moving to Japan as head coach of the Tokyo-based Ricoh Black Rams, while Jacobs is heading in the same direction, having taken up an offer to play for Kyuden Voltex. Betsen's plans are less certain, although at 37, retirement cannot be out of the question. "It was a big challenge for me and my family to move to England," said the back-rower, who played the lion's share of his rugby at Biarritz, "but I will be sad to leave. I thank the club for making a Frenchman feel so welcome."

Senior Exeter officials were scheduled to appear before a Rugby Football Union disciplinary tribunal today to explain player registration irregularities that left them with three foreigners, rather than the permitted two, in their squads for the Premiership games at London Irish and Leeds either side of April Fools' Day. The confusion surrounded the Fijian wing Nemani Nadolo, who would have been in the clear had he come to Britain bearing a passport from his own country, but travelled on Australian documents instead, thereby putting himself outside the Kolpak ruling covering "foreign" and "non-foreign" players.

The Devonians expect to be docked at least one Premiership point, but lingering fears that they might be plunged into a relegation scrap they thought they had avoided disappeared on Good Friday, when they recorded an excellent victory at Sale.

Missing in action: Henson's troubled times

Gavin Henson has played just 30 games for various clubs and nine for Wales since the start of the 2007-08 season


August 2007 to May 2008: 14 games for Ospreys

November 2007: 1 Autumn international for Wales

Six Nations 2008: 5 games for Wales


September 2008 to March 2009: 10 games for Ospreys

Six Nations 2009: 3 games for Wales

February 2009: Cautioned by police over an incident in Cardiff

March 2009: Injures his Achilles


September 2009-May 2010: Entire season spent on the sidelines due to injury and disaffection at Ospreys

May 2010: Announces separation from Charlotte Church


September to December 2010: Stars in 'Strictly Come Dancing'

October 2010: Released by Ospreys to join Saracens

December 2010 to January 2011: Plays four games for Saracens

January 2011: Tears a calf muscle

April 2011: Plays two games for Toulon

April 2011: Suspended by Toulon after an incident with team-mates in a bar following 21-9 win over Toulouse